You may not have
heard of Massive Black, but you’ve heard of its clients. Since 2003, the
collective has grown from a handful of concept artists, animators, and 3D
models to a full-on commercial art house supported by an international team of
digital artists. The studio’s done work for Blizzard, Sega, Nintendo and EA
with teams in downtown San Francisco and Shanghai. After creating a successful
artist-driven collective with ties to the biggest names in the entertainment
business, what's next for Massive Black?
Well, aside from holding workshops designed to help young
artists gain insight into digital art-making, publishing books and starting
their own online art school (Jason Manley's The Art Department), they've been
working on bringing a long-held creative dream to life. During this year's
Massive Black concept art workshop, WorkshopSF, President/CEO Chris Hatala and
Senior Art Director Coro Kaufman were on hand to announce the impending release
of Massive Black's first videogame, Mothhead.
Based on the eerie mixed media sculptures of Hollywood
maquette maker and concept artist Peter Konig, Mothhead is a game that defies
easy categorization. Made in collaboration with Unity, creators of the
artist-friendly Unity 3D game engine, Mothhead stars an unlikely hero – a
bizarre, alien-like creature with a moth for a head. You can check out our
first impressions on Mothhead here. The
surreal puzzler defies the usual categorization with its unique mechanics and
art style. Fortunately, Chris Hatala sat down with us afterwards and gave us
his take on the project.
Above: BioShock 2, Killzone 2, and Silent Hill are just some of the titles Massive Black has contributed to
take the risk now of making your own game?
Chris Hatala: It's very simple. You make other
people's stuff for so long, there's a longing to make your own thing. It's
really something we've been doing ever since we started but it's only come to
fruition just now. We always were creating IP – we've got a ton of intellectual
property just sitting around that we're waiting to do stuff with. But from the
beginning, the outsourcing was the way to fund the studio. You've got to
generate revenue to keep the doors open. No one's gonna pay us to make a game
if we're not proven so we have to find a way to do it in our free time. We've
done so many other people's games – we have over 300 clients – so we've had the
knowledge to do it. We just didn't have the technical ability which Unity's now
GR: So you
mention having different IP in the works for a while now. In addition to
Mothhead, you've also got Degenesis and Transient – how did you decide which of
them would be the best candidate for interactive entertainment?
CH: Each of the IP has a graphic art element related
to it, right? Like Degenesis for instance, Marko Djurdjevic's pen and paper
game that he made. A full book with the life history of every character, every
detail in the world... he made up this whole world and we got the rights to it
but we saw it as a very MMO type game. Way too big for a studio like us. It'd
be great to do, but there's too much manpower involved in an MMO. There are a
few other ideas though and there are a few we're keeping under wraps that we're
pursuing still internally but having worked on Mothhead for so long in one form
or another, we've acquired so much material on it.
It was a turn-key solution because when Unity asked us if we
had any good ideas, one of the main reasons we supplied Mothhead was because
we've got fifty grand worth of concept on this. If you want a turn-key
solution, here it is. We've got the levels spec'ed out, all the characters are
built, they're all rigged, they're all animated – we've got tons of stuff, we
just need to build the assets that we're going to put in there specifically. We
had a good head start and that's really the only way we could have gotten done
what we got done in three and a half months. It's been hard but it's totally
worth it to get this off the ground. We're excited.
Above: Concept art Massive Black's Mothhead
in video games, you're often selling players a fantasy – letting them become
someone they'd never in their normal lives, get to be. Who do you think will be
drawn to your hero character? Who wants to become Mothhead?
CH: Mothhead is a hero character but he's not your
three act structure, the hero's journey, mask of a thousand faces, whatever.
taking this Mothhead idea through a three-stage transition. From fine art
sculptural maquettes that were their own thing to digital art to interactive
CH: Yeah and they're not associated to each other.
GR: So if
they're not associated with one another, what to you is the most challenging
thing about remaining true to what was originally special about those
CH: How can you really do that? You can't. Because
only he (artist, Peter Konig) knows that. That's only in his head. Pete Konig,
who did the mixed media sculptures is super-talented and we've known him for a
very long time. But there's no way to know just what's in Pete's head. I would
never in a million years design something like these and they're just like
second nature to him. The way I see it, there's two ways you can do it – either
you start with the characters or you start with the story. It's one or the
other. It just so happened that we started with the characters.